Stacey Reser and the Thoroughbred Comeback

Stacey Reser and her Thoroughbred Junior Hunter. Photo © Mike Schram

by Ann Jamieson

Like most horse people, Stacey Reser started as a youngster, at the tender age of seven. Living in Ontario, Canada, with her single mom and siblings, Stacey picked the most expensive sport she could have chosen. Early on, she learned that she was the one who was responsible for supporting her horse habit. 

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

To do so, Stacey developed an incredible work ethic. By 10, she was already braiding to help pay for lessons and horse shows. Stacey taught herself, practicing on her toy horses by plaiting tiny braids into the horse’s manes. Braiding real horses, once she was good enough, added an extra challenge. Stacey often found herself balancing in a moving trailer as she braided on the way to a horse show.

Later she picked up another valuable skill: clipping. By 16, Stacey was offered a job working for Torchy Millar, the chef d’equipe of the Canadian Olympic team. She “lived at the barn. I was a horse girl, I went to Toronto, and then would come to Ocala,” (where she now lives). Stacey kept an exhausting schedule, braiding horses all night long at the horse show, and then heading to the show to work all day, five days a week.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

Moving to Wellington, Stacey worked for Havens Schatt for a period before returning to Ontario. She braided all over Ontario, again on a schedule of braiding at night and grooming during the day. “It supported me, paid for my equipment, horses, cars…”

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

After managing Hugh Graham’s show horses, Stacey worked in Europe for Marion Hughes (who was on the Irish team), and then finally decided it was time to settle down. She met her future husband, Ryan, had her daughter Seanna, and moved to Kansas where Ryan was raised. But life in Kansas did not suit Stacey. For once in her life, she was bored! “While there were eventers and dressage riders, there seemed to be no hunter/jumpers!”

Unable to work because she was Canadian (and she and Ryan hadn’t tied the knot yet), Stacey was looking for something to do. She picked up a little three-year-old Dutch warmblood for $2500 (something that would be unheard of now). 

Later in Wichita, Stacey began working for eventer John Staples. By then, she and Ryan had gotten married, which allowed Stacey the freedom to work. Starting by working off board for her horse, she soon found herself managing the barn. 

Anna Kalstin brought some horses to John’s barn, and asked Stacey to do some sales videos on them. Stacey later moved to Anna’s Flying Diamond Farm where she spent eight years working for her. Through taking care of the polo ponies, Stacey quickly realized that Anna had a lot of talented horses. But, “an unregistered horse is only worth so much,” so Stacey “jumped through hoops and worked her tail off” to get Anna’s mares and stallion approved for Westfalens. This way all the foals could be registered as well. Once again, Stacey’s work ethic made her invaluable. Stacey did everything: breeding, managing, training, sales—everything. One day “everything” stretched into doing a C-section on a mare who died while foaling. Stacey was on her own with no vet attending. The event so traumatized her that when her own mare foaled, she sent her to the vet clinic to handle the delivery. 

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

Stacey, in addition to her work for Anna, was doing some teaching on the side and riding some horses for Michelle Stein. Michelle was the general manager of the Wichita Marriott. Although there were no positions open at the hotel at the time, Stacey ended up slipping into the front desk position, where she excelled. Stacey worked her way up to manager. While she made that work for a while, juggling two full-time jobs proved too much. Stacey stepped down to supervisor, working fewer hours at the hotel. She remained on the job for eight years. “I had a great team and I miss it a lot,” declares Stacey. The experience gained on that job has served her well ever since.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

How did Stacey manage to work two full-time jobs? She would typically “ride during the day until about 2 p.m., then go straight to work to change into my suit, fix my hair and put some make-up on, tidy up, and off I went.”

Horses in Kansas were hard, says Stacey, because “people didn’t want to come to Wichita to look at them. The horses at Flying Diamond had such good brains, “but trying to get people from Kansas to come look at a Thoroughbred was impossible. Flying Diamond Horses were different, they were bred for sport, and had the best brains and work ethic, so many people missed out!”

Photo © Jerry Mohme Photography

Stacey’s sister lived in Florida. “Why not go there?” she thought, and in no time she was packing up, arriving with “pretty much nothing,” just her own horses and some polo ponies she was shipping. 

Stacey lived and rented a barn at King Ridge Stable, in an area she was familiar with. Ryan and Seanna arrived six months later. She had two horses to sell, plus her personal horses. She didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the lay of the land. “It was a risk for sure,” she says, “all or nothing. I would drive around, make a few phone calls, meet people along the way, help the trainers ride (which I wasn’t getting paid for), braided, clipped. I was constantly networking. I didn’t mind the hard work and it was a perfect way to meet people.”

Now, Stacey has a barn full of 16 horses. In addition to buying her own property, she rents her neighbor’s 10 acres and four stalls. “The horses are so happy, so well cared for. Every horse gets compassion and attention. It makes for happy horses. No horse goes unnoticed. As as soon as one horse is gone, another one comes in. We’re so busy. We have a little bit of staff and one working student. We had to buy all the equipment, and we’re always trying to make improvements. I’ve loved every minute of being in Ocala, everyone is so welcoming, we’re working together as a team.” Stacey’s farm is named Kanadian Equestrian, to combine Kansas and Canada.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

One thing that sets Stacey apart is great customer service, something she learned during the stint at the Marriott. The five-star reviews on her website are a testament to her knowledge, trustworthiness, and experience. “I do not think I could do this job,” she says, if it wasn’t for her customer service skills gained at the Wichita Marriott. “It taught me a whole ‘nother level of customer service. We had to do countless classes with lots of refresher courses, and it’s all about the customer. 

This is a very challenging job and having a customer service background I feel gives me an advantage. I stay humble and kind and appreciative; every opportunity I’ve been given is just amazing. It’s word of mouth and good service and it’s been absolutely great, meeting the right people, being a good person, honest and upfront, and taking care of the horses. I never get a day off. I do everything from stalls on up, everything that comes from having a barn. Hard work will never leave my bones.”

She appreciates the “support from my family to let me follow this dream and make it happen. When you think about the things you want and strive for them, they happen.”

Stacey was thrilled when top eventer Tic Maynard “asked for hunter lessons from me! He could have asked anyone in Ocala but he asked me!” Stacey reschools former eventers for hunters, and gets in scores of nice Thoroughbreds from Penny Hallman of Merrylegs Farm, who is based in Long Island, New York, and Wellington, Florida. One won the freestyle with Tic at the Thoroughbred  Makeover. “He was a super hunter, a lovely horse!”

“Penny has been so supportive, and she loves her horses. They’re off the track, but they’re loved. They are cared for so well; she calls everybody all the time to find out how her babies are doing…whatever they need to make sure they’re happy and healthy. That really makes a difference on the animal.”

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

The move south was aimed at getting into a bigger market and doing more imports. Stacey works with both warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, and Ocala has become hotter than ever, not just in temperature, but for horses as well, with the opening of the World Equestrian Center. Stacie has contacts for the warmbloods she imports, and Merrylegs Farm as a source for Thoroughbreds. 

In the 1960’s through the 1980’s, the horse of choice for hunter/jumper riders was the Thoroughbred. In 1983, Sweet ‘N Low, set the record, 7’7 1/2″ for the indoor Puissance. No horse has ever broken that record. Gem Twist, bred by Frank and Mary Chapot, won the AGA Grand Prix Horse of the Year title a record three times, secured a stunning 40 Grand Prix wins under three different riders, and was named “World’s Best Horse” at the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Thoroughbreds for decades took Medal/Maclay riders like Mark Leone, Cynthia Hankins, and Bernie Traurig to victories in the equitation finals.

Stacey loves Thoroughbreds. Her current star, Voice of Reason aka Reggie, “comes out every day the same. He’s so quiet, I just hop right on him and go. A Freud baby (by Storm Cat), Reggie has never seen the track. As a yearling and two-year-old, he looked like the ugly duckling, swaybacked with a big head and scrawny legs. Now he is the handsome swan, a spitting image of his sire.

Photo courtesy of Stacey Reser

“No way this horse would make it at the track!” laughs Stacey. Instead, Stacey got him, and taught him to jump. She knew right away he was really good. A little quirky, he had his own agenda like a toddler, so it took her a little while to get him going, to figure him out. But he’s so stunning and talented, that as soon as they showed in the baby greens Reggie cleaned up, winning every class! Moving on to the young hunters, they did both that division and then the Thoroughbred classes as well. “He never came home without a tricolor. And he was in steel shoes and still moved incredibly well. 

It didn’t matter where he was showing. Whether he was at HITS, the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, or the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Reggie “continued to clean up, earning championships in both divisions with scores always in the 80’s. It didn’t matter which ring he was in, three very different rings (and in that atmosphere, it’s a lot!), he just marched around like a champ. 

“He’s a competitor, he really loves it. This year we’re doing the 3′, getting 80’s still, aiming for Green Hunter Finals this year. I  just think he’s such a cool horse, I would like to get recognition, to bring light to the Thoroughbreds. I think he’s a great horse to do that. Just because he’s a Thoroughbred doesn’t mean he can’t compete and win. If the horse does the job it is supposed to do, does it matter that he doesn’t have a brand or a passport? 

Photo © Melissa Kelly

“He walks off the truck, goes to the ring with no prep, no earplugs, less is more and we keep him happy that way. He does a brilliant job and wins. We love him. So why is that any different than a warmblood? Especially when he’s easier! The more we can educate people, the better, especially with this market and how things are changing and Thoroughbreds are coming back. Plus there are bonuses to having a Thoroughbred. You get prize money and you get extra classes, there’s a lot of benefits but most people just don’t know about.

He’s a cool horse with a great fan club and he can just bring some light to the table on Thoroughbreds. And he’s my favorite horse to ride. I just sit on him and it’s like going home. All my working students ride him, he’s such a good egg for a young horse.”

Thoroughbreds never lost their athleticism, their desire to please, their beauty, and their will to win. While once the pendulum swung massively in the direction of warmbloods, it is now swinging back, introducing more riders to the joys and thrills of riding a Thoroughbred. As well as the ability to purchase a competitive horse without breaking the bank! Stacey Reser is on the crest of the wave, bringing quality Thoroughbreds to “the Horse Capital of the World, Ocala”…and beyond.

About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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